I am for free speech to the maximum, because it gives people the ability to explore ideas to their core. If you can’t talk about any idea you can’t discover what valuable things may be revealed when it is thoroughly explored, and you never know which ideas are the right ones. That is my philosophical position; however, in the real world I do draw limits on what I am willing to hear people assert, and that comes down to personal intimidation by the speaker’s words and actions. So the new question becomes what are the limits to personal intimidation we are willing to accept under the general rule of free speech?
Of course no one likes to be intimidated, and yet to live in a society it is necessary to have some degree of agreed upon law, and to give to authorized people the right to enforce the law. That enforcement of the law includes intimidation to obey the law or be punished and for real punishment to be meted out if the intimidation didn’t prevent the violation of the agreed upon laws.
Okay, that is the legal aspect of intimidation, but what about daily interaction with ordinary, law-abiding people? Are there definable limits to what we may say and do that don’t violate legal definitions of assault or battery, but which are sufficiently reprehensible that we must avoid them? I think there are, and they are the general codes of polite behavior that we expect from other people. We are expected to speak to a person’s ideas, and we may vigorously disagree with those ideas and still be polite, but we may not attack the person espousing the ideas without violating accepted polite codes of behavior. Perhaps any reference to a person is at risk of being offensive; even a seemingly polite reference to their having a beautiful shirt on today sets up a mental counter of an ugly one yesterday. Perhaps it is okay to say “What a beautiful shirt,” as an abstraction without any personal reference, but even that is marginal.
It is difficult to do or say anything whatsoever without risking being offensive.